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    Thursday
    Feb042016

    The Flatirons, Layers of Earth, and the Excavation of Civilizations

    Twilight fall upon all souls
    Darkening our skin and bone
    Soon I’ll follow Prudence home
    Until then, just let me chase this sun
    Soon enough I’ll go, a winters way
    Soon enough, though not this day…

                                          -Autumn, Puscifer

     

               The Flatirons is the name given to a several slanted slabs of rock that tower above Boulder, Colorado.  The gradual upheaval of the Flatirons resulted from a highly confusing process of tectonic plates colliding on the Earth’s crust and upper-mantle in the age of the dinosaurs 35 to 80 million years ago.  (The Late Cretaceous period abruptly ended, and I suspect that had it not there would be metropolitan dinosaurs carrying briefcases and headed off to work on Earth at this very moment.)  The plates and microplates of Earth’s crust (which reach a depth of 25 miles) and upper-mantle (a thousand miles down) lie upon the lower-mantle which is comprised of dense rock that has the consistency of asphalt.  Driven by internal convection currents, the Earth’s mantle flows slowly, shouldering the rigid crust above it.  As the continental and oceanic curst separate and merge over the eras, mountains and seas are diminished and formed.   2,000 miles down, beneath the lower-mantle, lies the outer core of the Earth, which is made up of nickel and iron and flows in a liquid state, touching the edge of the inner core at 3,000 miles.  The core of the Earth, 3,000 - 4,000 miles beneath of our feet (at 4,000 miles is you’re at the center), is so highly pressurized that it is solid, and it is hotter than the surface of the sun.  (Some people say that if you were there you’d be floating or that you’d be squeezed to the size of a marble.  These are irrelevant points because the temperature of the Earth’s core is 9,000 Fahrenheit and the pressure is three millions times that of the surface, so humans will never get there; the closest we’ve dug is 8 miles down.  Our data about the nature of the layers of the Earth is scientifically inferred.) 

    File:Geological time spiral.png
    USGS Geological Time Spiral

                 The Flatirons are located 30 miles northwest of Denver, and when one gazes southeast across the winter farmland toward the mile-high city you wonder what it would be like to watch a nuclear bomb detonate over that capital.  There would be a bright flash followed by a billowing mushroom cloud, and general chaos would ensue.  Survivors of the blast would most likely attempt to leave Denver, probably walking on highways toward the Rocky Mountains, the nearest source of fresh water.   The reaction in the towns on the outskirts of the city would be mixed.  There would be crews of good Samaritans rushing to assist the survivors of the blast, while others, fearing the effects of the radioactive dust particles and impending nuclear winter, would pack up and head west in a frenzy.  Depending on the strength of the weapon, Boulder would be left intact, and the Flatirons would still prevail above that quaint college town on the foothills of the Rockies.  

                The hike to the top of the Flatiron is strenuous.  In the winter the trails are covered in ice and the buzzards wheeling above the rocks are just waiting for you to slip and crack your skull.  Pine tree forests surround the Flatirons and grow through the cracks of the lichen-covered rocks like bonsai trees. Above the canyons and steep hills and among the giant stones, the view from the top is extraordinary: Boulder and small towns are visible upon the vast plains that extend toward the eastern horizon, cold white clouds churn about the formidable snow-capped Rockies that dominate the western panorama, fairy-chimney rock formations rise up from the spectacular foothills stretching north in a range so beautiful that one could walk them forever. 

                I watched some people climbing along the tops of the Flatirons.   These impressive individuals were higher up than I, and I could not help but think that I was missing an adrenaline rush and better view by not being up there.  To assuage this frustration I told myself, “You go diving, and I’m assuming they don’t, so they’re missing some things you get to see and experience.”  (Although I’m sure there are plenty of divers who know how to climb.)  An estimated 350,000 people are born each day (an estimated 150,000 die each day).  The natural wonders of the world are inevitably being thoroughly explored and regularly visited, direct flights to places like New Zealand and Tahiti are increasing, remote diving locations that were formerly virtually unknown are becoming increasingly popular, Mt. Everest is being covered with trash and the dead bodies of climbers.  Certainly this is fine, so long as the environments of these places can be sustained, which is questionable but possible.  (Ecotourism in on the rise in places like Belize, but the cruise and cargo ships keep crashing into the reef.)  How wonderful it would be if we could strike a balance so that posterity of humanity and all species in the natural world would be given the chances and opportunities for happiness and survival similar to that of their ancestors.  But it may be that our species will have to start again, and our modern cities will be re-discovered and excavated by future humans just as humans have excavated the lost cities of ancient civilizations in places like Angkor Wat, Manchu Picchu, and Rome.   The way this folds out will be largely dependent on the way we treat each other.  During the war in former Yugoslavia American fighter pilots would take off from Air Force bases in Maryland to bomb people in Serbia and then fly back home in time for dinner.  We can use or technology to communicate and travel in effort to talk out our differences, or we can bomb the shit out of each other.  We chose the latter route in the last war in Iraq – a country which we have been bombing for twenty-five years now – and in doing so we squandered a chance to for dialogue and peace.  Now that region is in flames and their ancient cities are being bombed to dust.  If we continue on this destructive path there will be nothing left for future humans to excavate, not even Denver, but in spite of our actions, the Flatirons will likely remain for millions of years to come. 

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